How to Choose a Taekwondo School

a female taekwondo practitioner standing in a dojang

Choosing the right school of taekwondo is essential if you are to maintain an ongoing interest in the art while continuing to grow as a human being.

Therefore, your enrollment in a school should never be taken lightly.

It is important to understand that what is right for one person is not necessarily right for another person.

If somebody tells you that he or she attends the best taekwondo school on the planet, this does not mean it is the right studio for you.

Choosing a school of taekwondo must be done scientifically.

You must study all of the elements of the school and then make a conscious decision about whether or not it is the right place for you to train.

Choosing a Taekwondo School

The most important thing you can do before you choose a school of taekwondo is to go and watch a class at the studio you are considering attending. As you do, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is the school teaching what I want to learn?
  2. Are the classes taught in a manner that will be beneficial to me?
  3. Does the senior instructor teach the class, or does he have his students teach the class?
  4. Are the beginning students treated with respect?
  5. Are the white belts (beginners) at the school left to learn the techniques completely on their own, or are there advanced students helping them on their way?
  6. How long has the school been in business?
  7. Is the school affiliated with a large taekwondo governing body, or is it teaching an independent style?
  8. Is the school’s primary focus on self-defense or competition?
  9. What are the belt promotion standards for the school (how long does it take to advance between belts, and what is the price of promotion)?
  10. Do I have to sign a contract when I join the school or are payments made on a month-to-month basis?

The Hype

When you go to watch a class for the first time, you will probably be given the hard sell by the instructor or one of the senior members of the school.

They will usually attempt to convince you that their school is the best in the area and that all other schools are not up to their level of expertise.

This is a very common practice, so it is essential that you do not allow yourself to be drawn into a school that you do not truly wish to attend.

Some schools allow you to take a free introductory class. This is an exceptional way to decide if a school is right for you.

With a free class, you get to actually experience a school’s method of training.

The Instructor

An obvious selling method in taekwondo is for an instructor to list all of his accomplishments. A taekwondo instructor’s credentials are, obviously, an essential element in making your decision about where you will train.

Accomplishments, however, do not necessarily mean that a particular taekwondo instructor is a dedicated teacher or the right instructor for you.

Just because an instructor tells you that he is a “World Champion,” “Ninth Degree Black Belt,” “Supreme Grand Master,” or “Olympic Coach,” shouldn’t make you assume that he is a competent instructor.

When seeking out a school of taekwondo, you must weigh the instructor’s accomplishments against his teaching ability.

It is essential to keep in mind that many taekwondo instructors have relocated from South Korea.

Taekwondo training in South Korea is vastly different from what one commonly experiences in the West.

It is much more intense. For example, the average Western student would not appreciate being struck with a bamboo shaft when he performs a technique incorrectly.

This, however, is a very common occurrence in the schools of taekwondo in South Korea.

Some teachers bring this training method with them, so you must find a school where the instructor meets your specific training needs.

The only way to do this is to observe the class.

The Contract

Schools of taekwondo are martial arts businesses.

In recent years it has become a common practice for schools to require new students to sign contracts.

These contracts cover a prescribed period of time—anywhere from three months to three years.

Commonly, the longer you sign up for, the less your monthly payments.

Although this sounds good, it does have a downside.

The student contracts presented at a martial arts studio normally specify that you must pay your monthly membership fee whether you attend classes or not.

If you spend a few weeks at the school, discover that you hate it, and quit, you will still be responsible for paying the monthly fee until your contract has expired.

Ideally, before entering into any contract, you may want to sign up for a month to get a clear picture of what the school’s training program actually entails and to see how much progress you make in that time.

If the school management refuses to let you do this, it will give you a clearer idea of the school’s motivation—money, as opposed to true taekwondo training.

How to Tell if a Taekwondo School Is Good

To tell if a taekwondo school is good enough and actually, what you need, the best thing you can do is observe their classes, especially classes consisting of higher-ranked students.

Now, here is how to tell if a taekwondo school is good for you.

The Atmosphere at Training is Friendly

A friendly atmosphere is very common in martial arts gyms. That is if they are any good.

There’s a common misconception that martial arts and its practitioners are aggressive and hostile, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Taekwondo teaches you how to defend yourself in a do-or-die situation, but you should never use your skills to the detriment of others, especially not if you’re the aggressor.

If you get into a school and feel a bad vibe, you might want to look for another school.

Some “instructors” are bullies, and they teach their practitioners to be aggressive bullies as well.

One time, I came to a new gym since I moved to another city, and in the first three training sessions, every practitioner came at me like I was their worst enemy.

What’s even worse, the instructor encouraged them to “pick on the new guy.”

That’s not a healthy environment to train in martial arts.

Every martial art requires focus, dedication, and respect, but most of all, it requires encouragement and help from fellow practitioners.

If you feel a hostile atmosphere in a gym, if you don’t see any smiles or see the practitioners and the instructor have an aggressive instead of a friendly attitude, it’s time to search for another school.

The School Teaches Respect, Control, and Discipline

Taekwondo requires self-control, respect, and discipline especially after you leave the gym. However, that respect, discipline, and control start inside the gym.

The only place where you should be aggressive when learning the art is in training and competition.

If the school encourages aggressive behavior outside of that (for instance, being a bully among less-skilled practitioners), steer away from that school and find a new one.

In the school I mentioned earlier, the instructor never preached respect and self-control to his practitioners because he believed “you need to have anger” if you want to be successful.

That’s not true. Guys were sparring, and it turned ugly pretty quickly because they were taught they aren’t friends but rather a competition.

If you can’t control yourself and your skills, then taekwondo and indeed any other martial arts aren’t for you.

When you learn how to fight, your skills become a weapon. You should never use it to the detriment of others.

If you get to a school and see that the instructor preaches respect and self-control, and if you see that the practitioners share mutual respect towards one another or the teacher, you got yourself a keeper.

The Instructor Is Dedicated and Experienced

So, the most important thing you want out of your instructor is that they’re dedicated to what they do.

Look into the qualifications and credentials of the instructors at the school.

A good taekwondo school will have instructors who have extensive experience and training in the style of taekwondo they are teaching.

If they just stand around in training, give you drills, and then talk to somebody instead of watching what the team is doing, they aren’t a good instructor.

Even if they have all the martial arts experience in the world, that doesn’t make them good instructors if they don’t have the will and passion for transferring that experience and knowledge to you.

Also, depending on what style of taekwondo the school is, check and see if the instructor is not only certified, but in the case of WT / Kukkiwon style schools has the “Right to recommend” for DAN promotion, and holds a Kukkiwon Certificate.

Where does the instructor get his curriculum from? Is it some mass-marketed pre-packaged material he bought on the internet or is it something he created based on his own knowledge and training?

You Can Feel That You Are Improving

You can only make your observation on this if you are already a student in the school (or have at least signed up for the free trial).

Improvement takes some time, so it might be hard to judge a school quickly based on your improvement.

However, if you’re in a gym for some time now and still feel like you’re not improving, you should look for another gym.

To determine if you have improved or not, it’s not enough to learn new techniques, you also need to be able to utilize them in combat.

So, put on some sparring gloves, and square off against another practitioner.

If you feel like you still get hit more often than you hit them or that you can’t utilize any new technique you’ve learned for a long time, it might be time for a new gym.

Even if your instructor is dedicated and willing to help, that doesn’t mean they have the required skills to take you to the next level.

 So, if you see a lack of improvement over time, the school you’re in isn’t that good.

What Is a Taekwondo School Called?

A taekwondo school is called a “dojang” which literally means “hall of the way”

Dojang is a term used in Korean martial arts, such as Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do, Kuk Sool Won, and hapkido, which refers to a formal training hall.

It is typically considered the formal gathering place for students of martial art to conduct training, examinations, and other related encounters.

Taekwondo schools are generally not called ‘kwans’ anymore. The martial arts schools that existed in Korea in the mid-twentieth century were called Kwan, but modern schools generally are not.

Do not call a Taekwondo school a dojo. This is a Japanese term used in Karate to describe a training hall.

Dojang and dojo sound similar because they are cognates – dojang is the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese dojo.

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